(SportsNetwork.com) - A preview of the upcoming Winter Classic is on tap Saturday night in Toronto, as the Maple Leafs host the Detroit Red Wings at Air Canada Centre.
Saturday's tilt is the first of four scheduled meetings between the Red Wings and Leafs this season. The next encounter will be staged outdoors, as Detroit is set to host this year's Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium.
Before battling in front of 100,000 or so people, however, these two Original Six rivals will get together for tonight's clash in Toronto, where the Red Wings have lost four straight games since last beating the Leafs on the road on Nov. 16, 2002.
Toronto has taken four of five overall from the Red Wings, who are now playing in the same division as the Maple Leafs thanks to the onset of realignment. Detroit moved from the Western Conference to the East prior to this season and joined Toronto in the Atlantic Division.
The Red Wings hope to stay on the right track tonight after halting a six-game losing streak in their last trip to the ice. Detroit stopped the 0-4-2 slide with Thursday's 3-2 overtime win over Calgary, as the Wings salvaged the final test of four-game homestand.
Daniel Alfredsson scored his second goal of the game just 63 seconds into overtime to help the Red Wings defeat the Flames and record their first win since a road victory over New Jersey on Dec. 6.
The Red Wings got a power play when Calgary defenseman TJ Brodie was whistled for hooking with 42 seconds left in regulation. On the ensuing power play, Pavel Datsyuk fed Alfredsson for a one-timer in the slot and the veteran buried a shot past Karri Ramo.
"We're hanging in games and we're playing some good hockey, and then all of a sudden, we have some lapses where we give the other team way too many chances," said Alfredsson. "We did that at times (tonight) too, but we grinded throughout the whole time, 60 minutes, and obviously Pavel's play there at the end of regulation to draw the penalty turns out to be huge."
Jonas Gustavsson made 20 saves for the Red Wings, who avoided their sixth consecutive loss on home ice. Detroit is playing three of its next four games on the road before hosting the Winter Classic and has a solid 10-3-3 away record this season.
With regular No. 1 goaltender Jimmy Howard still out with a knee injury. Gustavsson expects to start tonight against his former team. It would mark the goaltender's first appearance against the Leafs since he joined Detroit as a free agent in the summer of 2012.
In addition to Howard, forwards Henrik Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm and Johan Franzen will miss tonight's game due to various injuries. However, Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser is expected to return to the lineup Saturday after missing the last 15 games with a separated left shoulder.
The Maple Leafs also will try for a second straight win on Saturday after halting a two-game slide of their own on Thursday.
Toronto won for just the second time in six outings with a 2-1 shootout win against the visiting Phoenix Coyotes. James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul both scored in the shootout on Thursday to help the Maple Leafs pick up two points.
Van Riemsdyk slipped the puck through Mike Smith's five-hole on the backhand. Smith flew back into the net and did not allow the referees to see where the puck went. After a review, the goal was deemed to be good. Mikkel Boedker then beat James Reimer on a backhand shot, but two Toronto shooters later, Lupul lit the lamp after faking the shot and wristing the puck over the shoulder of Smith.
Troy Bodie netted Toronto's lone goal in regulation. Cody Franson and Peter Holland picked up the assists on the score and Reimer turned aside 34 shots for the win.
"You're always looking for someone to step up for you. Obviously our goaltending has been strong for us. Tonight was another example of James Reimer stepping up. We're very fortunate to have him," said Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle.
Toronto is capping a three-game homestand tonight and is 12-8-0 as the host this season.